Summer brings to mind all types of fun outdoor activities and for cooling off, taking a dip in the local pool or lake is an all time favorite. As recreation, you can’t beat the cool, relaxing effect of being in the water. As exercise, swimming provides many benefits.
When you get into the water, your body doesn’t have to work against gravity. The water is more dense than air, of course, so there’s more resistance when you move. But the pressure of the water is uniformly distributed, so your joints aren’t subjected to the same burden that comes with gravity. If you have problems with your joints, water is a gentle way to get exercise and move the joints without causing additional harm. And if you have a back problem, swimming takes the stress off the back, allowing you to move about in the water with ease.
Swimming is also calming and meditative. The sound of your breathing and the water rushing by helps you focus inward and drown out all other distractions. This lowers stress and depression naturally. Research also shows that swimming can reverse damage to the brain from stress through a process called hippocampal neurogenesis. So, if you feel like you’re drowning emotionally, jumping in an actual body of water may be exactly what you need to find your feel-good feet again.
Swimming to Good Health
Can you swim your way to good health? Several research studies have shown that swimming and water-based exercise can help improve overall health and even stall the effects of chronic illness. Here are just a few of the benefits of taking your exercise routine to the pool:
- Keeps your heart rate up but takes some of the impact stress off your body
- Helps build endurance, muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness
- Helps you maintain a healthy weight, healthy heart, and lungs
- Tones muscles and builds strength
- Provides an all-over body workout, as nearly all of your muscles move against the water
Water-based exercise like aerobics or lap swimming helps people who have arthritis. A March 2016 study in The Journal of Rheumatology found that middle-aged and older adults with osteoarthritis experienced a reduction in stiffness and joint pain as well as an increase in quality of life after three months of water exercise. Since water provides support, it makes aerobics very low-impact, putting little stress on bones and joints. Any water exercise improves the use of joints affected by arthritis but doesn’t worsen the symptoms. It has also been reported to decrease the pain from osteoarthritis.
And swimming is great for weight loss because you’ll burn calories with a minimal amount of exercise. The water provides equal resistance for your whole body, causing you to work a bit harder so it takes less time than walking, for example, to get the same benefit.
If you haven’t taken the plunge, you might wonder how to get started. Check with your doctor to make sure you don’t have any underlying health issues that would prevent you from getting the full benefit of water exercise. If you enjoy swimming and you’re in generally good health, you can try swimming just a few laps each time you visit the pool. You don’t have to do a lot to reap the rewards. Be sure to wear goggles to protect your eyes and a swim cap to help you move more easily through the water. And remember to stay hydrated. Even though you’re swimming, you can still become dehydrated.
Editor’s note: We recognize that in many communities, COVID-19 restrictions may prohibit a visit to the neighborhood pool right now. We offer the above guidance for those who can partake and for those who look forward to doing so as soon as it is possible in your area.